MU's 'draft dodger' enjoys fast start

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Missouri's Martin Rucker leads tight ends nationally in receptions and receiving yards. (L.G. PATTERSON ~ Associated Press)

Rucker hopes a big year will enhance his standing in the NFL draft.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri senior Martin Rucker is playing like a guy with something to prove.

That's largely because he does. The tight end was an All-Big 12 selection in 2006 and considered entering the NFL draft. But an advisory committee, after evaluating game film, told Rucker he wouldn't be a first-round selection. Or second. In fact, the committee figured he'd go in the fifth round.

"That stung," Rucker said. "The fifth round kind of punched me in the jaw a little bit. That definitely fueled my offseason workouts."

The result: So far, Rucker is even better than in his previous three seasons, when he accumulated 119 catches for 1,341 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"Being an all-conference player to, a year later, taking his game to a higher level, I'll use that forever," coach Gary Pinkel said. "One play he had about nine guys on him by the time he went down. He just keeps getting that extra yard, and that says an awful lot about him."

Through three games for No. 25 Missouri (3-0), Rucker leads all tight ends and is 10th in the nation, averaging more than eight catches and 86 receiving yards per game. In a 52-24 win over Western Michigan on Saturday, he had 11 catches for a career-best 115 yards.

After the advisory committee's report, Rucker decided to beef up. Now at 255 pounds, he's closer to the weight of a typical NFL tight end.

He's also become a bigger part of the Missouri offense. In addition to the extra receiving load, Rucker has been the focal point of a few new wrinkles in the spread offense. On some plays, he lines up at quarterback in the shotgun, taking snaps and running quarterback draw plays in each of Missouri's last four games dating to last season's Sun Bowl.

This season, he's rushed five times for 26 yards.

In Saturday's game, Rucker lined up at quarterback while Chase Daniel lined up at wide receiver. Rucker took the snap, pitched to a trailing Daniel, then went out for a pass. Daniel threw to Rucker for a 12-yard gain.

"I really believe we have a chance to be something special," Rucker said. "I'm glad I'm being able to contribute."

The Tigers host Illinois State (2-1) on Saturday at Faurot Field.

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